In 1994, First United Methodist Church in El Dorado celebrated its 125th anniversary. As part of our celebration, RoJean (Erwin) Holem researched and wrote a history of the church. This account is taken from her article. At the bottom of this page is an addendum to her history, covering the years since 1994.
Before our church became organized, people had to wait for E. C. Stanburg, a circuit rider, who came periodically on horseback to minister to the religious needs and perform sacred rites for the community
The First Methodist Episcopal Church of El Dorado was organized December 1869 by Rev. L. S. Friend, a local minister. There were twelve original members. It is thought that this was the first church of any denomination within the bounds of Butler County. Services were conducted in the old courthouse, and then later in a stone schoolhouse, located in the northeast corner of the intersection of South Washington Street and Locust Avenue. In the History of the Southwest Conference, El Dorado and Marion were the first charges of this area…even before churches in Winfield and Wichita! The church is fortunate in possessing the original minutes of the first Quarterly Conference held in El Dorado on May 21, 1870. It lists these officials: J. S. Danford, C. B. McFarland, John Smith, P. D. Frost, D. I. Knowles, Benjamin Thomas, J. S. Friend, C. H. Mallory, and T. J. Anthony.
The Rev. Mr. Friend, who served as pastor for a few months, was succeeded in 1870 by the Rev. D. L. Knowles. The charge included not only El Dorado, but also West Branch, Chelsea, Towanda, Upper Whitewater, Plum Grove, Augusta, Leon, and Little Walnut.
In 1871 the Rev. Mr. S. L. Roberts was assigned to the charge, serving one year. His successor, E. S. Snow, remained only a few months. Following his resignation, the Rev. Mr. A. Hartman filled the pulpit. Salary for the year 1871, including housing and moving, was apportioned as follows: El Dorado, $450; Towanda, $40; Upper Whitewater, $110; Little Walnut, $40; the balance, $110 from an unspecified source. The records further indicate that the board failed to approve these expenditures and the minister resigned.
It was in 1873, during the pastorate of the Rev. Mr. John Fox that Sunday School Classes were organized and the first church building was erected at 204 W. First Avenue at a cost of $1600. This building, slightly altered and enlarged, still exists today. An addition of a belfry was in 1874 and during the time that Rev. Walter Oakley was pastor, 1874-1877, the bell was added, as well as church furnishings and books for the Sunday School library…total cost $620.
Robert Ruddick died in December 1873, and his funeral was the first held in the new church building.
A substantial amount of money was raised in 1885 toward the erection of a new church. Property was purchased from Rev. J. R. Cooper at the corner of Central Avenue and Oskaloosa (now South Taylor)…location of our present home! Construction for the brick building began in 1885 and was dedicated January 9, 1887, at a cost of $15,000; church trustees made formal presentation to the minister, the Rev. Mr. D. W. Phillips. Records show that the ‘congregation was large and fashionable, and although the Bible enjoins the brothers and sisters not to wear purple, fine linen, gold and silver ornaments, diamonds and the like in the Temple, the injunction was disobeyed to a large extent.” The ladies were attired in their best, looking pious and charming, and the brethren were not much behind!
Dr. John E. Earp was our pastor from 1893 to 1895; he later became the first president of Southwestern College at Winfield. His grandson was one of El Dorado’s physicians.
Extensive remodeling was begun during the pastorate of the Rev. Claude M. Gray, 1908 to 1910, and completed in 1911, while the Rev. A. M. Wilkinson was minister.
The church building was quite changed in appearance; the brick was covered with stucco and there was a veranda-type porch on the west with steps leading into the church on the north. This “remodeling job” was often referred to as the third Methodist structure. During the remodeling, Sunday School and church services were held in the high school auditorium.
The King’s Daughters, a group of younger women of the church, purchased through their tireless efforts, a pipe organ for the church. Dedication was July 16, 1916. Church membership was 450.
Ministers serving between the years 1912 and 1921 were the Revs. W. W. Bollinger, A. O. Ebright, and C. E. King.
With the increase in population due to the oil boom, plans for a larger building soon became necessary. This took form in 1921 under the leadership of Rev. Mr. Charles A. Kitch. The existing structure was torn down, and a basement excavated at the same location. A concrete basement was poured, roofed over with asphalt and tar paper, and this served for church services. The ladies rallied with many church dinners, bazaars and home craft sales to help with finances.
The “super-structure” was started in October 1926 and this edifice (the present building) of brick, cut stone, windows of Cathedral glass and woodwork, and other structure of walnut and pine, was dedicated June 26, 1927, at a final cost of approximately $140,000. Rev. C. D. Whitwam was pastor. President of the Board of Trustees was R. W. Cameron.
In 1939 the Methodist Episcopal Church united with the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church. With this merger, another took place…the three ladies’ societies, which had been active since 1878, became as one, the Women’s Society of Christian Service.
Dr. Alvin W. Murray, our pastor from 1940 to 1945, went from our church to Southwestern College as its president. The 75thanniversary of the church was observed with a week of special activities, and on December 17, Bishop William C. Martin was guest speaker and the church mortgage was burned in an impressive ceremony.
A highlight during Dr. LeRoy F. Arend’s pastorate from 1945 to 1950 occurred when he and other ministers of the community united and produced a Christmas pageant, Putting Christ in Christmas. Although it was freezing weather, 2500 people witnessed the performance at the city ball park. Young people loved Dr. Arend; he appeared at all their school activities. He belonged to several civic organizations.
Rev. Leonard J. Smoot served from 1950 to 1952. James Andrews served as part-time associate pastor while working on his seminary degree during this time.
The gymnasium was remodeled into education rooms at a cost of $40,000, and the Dillenbeck property, the location of our present parking lot, was purchased for the sum of $18,000, under the leadership of Dr. O. Ray Cook.
The choir loft was remodeled into a divided chancel, allowing the center aisle to lead directly the cross on the altar. Dr. Cook and his wife, Ruth, had a goal of “every member visitation” during a two-year period. He served our church from 1953 to 1960.
During the pastorate of Dr. Joe Riley Burns from 1960 to 1969, improvements to the church property included installation of central air conditioning and overhauling of the heating system in 1964, amounting to $40,000, and building the new parsonage at 502 S. Denver Street at a cost of $38,500. The former Hazlett home and surrounding grounds on the southeast corner of the church block was purchased January 1969 at a cost of $47,500.
The Official Board passed a resolution in April 1964 that “open membership” without respect to race or color would henceforth be a policy practice of this church. Dr. Burns instructed the first class in the city of God and Community for the Girl Scouts; this was a two-year course and two of our girls completed the course.
A Philippine Fair was held November 25, 1963, auctioning articles brought to the 4-H Building. Proceeds went to missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Max Webster, to purchase a good used Jeep for their transportation in the Philippines. In May 1964 this church assisted with the salary of an Oklahoma Indian Pastor as well as taking large quantities of clothing at various times to members of the church.
Fred Wolfe, Jr. became organist in 1965, a position he would hold for forty-five years until his death in 2010.
With the union of the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968, we became known as the United Methodist Church.
Rev. Melvin L. Short, who served from 1969 to 1974, started a special time during church services to recognize anyone with special needs, a custom that continues. The successful organization of the Council on Ministries, part of the structure of the new denomination, was undertaken. John T. Rhoades continued his service as associate minister, which had begun during the pastorate of Dr. Burns.
Rev. Albert J. Rymph was assisted his pastorate (1974 to 1978) by part-time youth director David Matthews. David introduced the concept of an annual Lord’s Acre auction with proceeds being used for special projects that weren’t in the church budget. A remodeling project that included the kitchen, choir room, restrooms, adding a bride’s room, installing an elevator, and transforming Fellowship Hall was begun. Because of numerous delays in construction, the project was not completed under Rev. Rymph.
One of Rev. Harold Keiler’s (1978 to 1986) first official duties was to host an “open house” on June 1978 for the remodeled facilities; formal dedication took place on November 5, 1978. Rev. Don Swender came as associate pastor in June 1979 until May 1983. Pastor Kieler implemented After-School Child Care service as a home-mission project; Check-in-Charlie, a service designed to reassure those living alone with daily calls; and Stephen Ministry as a lay-minister project. Rev. Leroy Smoot served as an associate minister from 1983 to 1984; Rev. Dottie Forinash Knetsch came as our associate pastor from January 1985 to 1987.
Dr. Harold “Pete” Posey was our senior pastor from June 1986 to February 1989. During his pastorate, the beautiful Hanging of the Green was observed on the first Sunday of Advent. This tradition continues. He did interesting Bible studies. We had a sister church, Shin-Kung Methodist of the Onyang District in South Korea. Rev. Michael McGuire was our associate pastor from June 1987 to 1989, serving the last few months of Dr. Posey’s assignment.
The Rev. Dr. Dennis Kuder began his pastorate in El Dorado First Church in June 1989. In the fall of 1989 he began Disciple classes; these always finished with a trip to Kansas City to visit Methodist missions. He led a group of pilgrims (our members) on a journey to the Holy Land in January 1993. Children loved their Sunday morning time with him…and the candy afterwords. Rev. Nathan Stanton was our youth director from 1992 to 1994.
Jackie Brazill served as Educational Associate from 1978 until she retired in the 1990’s. A popular program led by Jackie was the “Good News” program for 4th and 5th grade boys and girls.
In 1994, Leanna Johnson became full-time Youth Director, a position she held until her retirement in 2005. She moved UMYF meetings to Wednesday nights and instituted after-school and summer afternoon activities for middle school students. The youth program experienced tremendous growth, both in numbers and in activity during Leanna’s tenure.
In 2000, Dr. Kuder was called by Bishop Albert F. Mutti to become the Superintendent for the Dodge City district. Rev. David Weible became our pastor in July of that year, serving until his retirement in 2006. During his tenure a major remodeling project took place that gave the church modern office space, a new chapel, library, nursery, pre-school classrooms, and a new combined choir and bell choir room. For the first time, the church had first floor restrooms for both men and women.
Linda Swan became Educational Director in 2003 and added the youth directorship upon Leanna Johnson’s retirement and grew both programs including the development of “Clues Club,” a once-weekly afternoon program for elementary children and “Drama Club” during the summers.
At the 2006 Kansas-Area Annual Conference, the Rev. Michael L. McGuire was appointed to return to First United Methodist Church as pastor beginning in July 2006. In the fall of 2007, the church added a new audio and video system to the sanctuary, raising most of the $52,000 cost in a little over two weeks. 2007 also saw the church embark on a new visioning process, designed to focus our ministry in a new millennium. In 2009, utilizing our new audio/visual capabilities, First Church incorporated a contemporary style worship service under the musical leadership of Bobby and Chelle Edwards.
The Rev. Andrew Conard was appointed at the 2012 Kansas West Annual Conference and began serving on July 1, 2012. His wife, Nicole, is also an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church. They have two children.